Commentary

Earnhardt will get back in Chase contention with victory at Talladega

The Eliminator: Talladega

Updated: October 3, 2008, 10:15 AM ET
By Matthew Willis | ESPN.com

One thing's for sure in the Chase so far: The Eliminator is just not performing.

The numbers might never lie, but the picks of Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin have been bordering on downright average. Maybe the numbers are just misleading.

But what better place to get back on a roll than Talladega? One of the most -- if not the most -- unpredictable tracks on the circuit. A blown tire, a patch of oil or just a slip in concentration can cause half the field to get knocked out. The fastest cars aren't that much better than the slowest ones, and it comes down to strategy and finding friends at the right time.

Not the sort of thing easily predicted by numbers, but I'll give it a shot.

Or maybe I'm better staking my claims on some other methods this week. Let's give these a shot …

    • This race is the AMP Energy 500. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s sponsor is AMP. He's your pick this week.
    • The year: 2008. The driver in the No. 08? Boris Said. I'm going Bo-Said this week.
    • Or, I could just pick a name out of a hat. Bam, Reed Sorenson. Give me Sorenson this week.

Actually, why don't I try The Eliminator method? This week, we're going with a special, all-restrictor-plate version of The Eliminator. What better way to pick a Talladega winner than focusing solely on Daytona and Talladega?

But before that …

Trivia break! Kyle Busch has won two restrictor-plate races in a row. Who is the only driver to win three straight restrictor-plate races? He's also the only driver to win three plate races in a season.

OK, to start our special plate edition of The Eliminator, let's look back to the season-opening Daytona 500. That's because the past 10 Talladega winners all had finished in the top 15 in that season's Daytona 500. Obviously, that leaves us with just 15.

What about the July Daytona race? Glad I made it seem like you asked. It turns out that each of the past seven plate-race winners had finished in the top 10 in the previous restrictor-plate race. That just happens to be the July Daytona race here. Ten of those remaining didn't get it done at Daytona, so we take out guys such as Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Tony Stewart. That leaves just five.

Don't think I'm leaving out Talladega. The past four winners of the fall Talladega race all had finished in the top 10 in the previous Talladega race. That takes out the three remaining Dodges, those of Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne and Robby Gordon. Disappointed as I am to eliminate Robby Gordon, we're down to two.

Trivia break! Who else but Dale Earnhardt? The Intimidator won three plate races in a row in 1990. Which gets us to our final step.

Despite his Chase struggles, Kyle Busch has been outstanding on the Chase tracks this season: fourth at the Daytona 500 and winner of the other two. A number of drivers since Earnhardt have won two in a year -- Busch is the 17th -- but none pulled off the trifecta. That's reason enough for me to take out Busch, leaving just one.

Dale Earnhardt was at the heart of the reason Kyle Busch got knocked out. So, this week, who else but Dale Earnhardt Jr.? Remember, the numbers don't lie.

Eliminator breakdown
  1. The past 10 Talladega winners had finished in the top 15 of that season's Daytona 500. (31 drivers eliminated, 15 remaining)
    Drivers eliminated: Aric Almirola, Dave Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Patrick Carpentier, Carl Edwards, David Gilliland, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Travis Kvapil, Terry Labonte, Sterling Marlin, Michael McDowell, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Paul Menard, Juan Pablo Montoya, Joe Nemechek, David Ragan, Tony Raines, David Reutimann, Scott Riggs, Boris Said, Ken Schrader, Mike Skinner, Regan Smith, Martin Truex Jr., Mike Wallace, Michael Waltrip, Jon Wood.

  2. The past seven restrictor-plate race winners had finished in the top 10 in the previous plate race. (10 drivers eliminated, five remaining)
    Drivers eliminated: Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Sam Hornish Jr., Bobby Labonte, Ryan Newman, Elliott Sadler, Reed Sorenson, Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers.

  3. The past four fall Talladega winners had finished in the top 10 in the previous Talladega race. (Three drivers eliminated, two remaining)
    Drivers eliminated: Kurt Busch, Robby Gordon, Kasey Kahne.

  4. No driver has won three restrictor-plate races in a season since 1990. (One driver eliminated, one remaining)
    Driver eliminated: Kyle Busch.

  5. And your winner is: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Matt Willis is a studio researcher at ESPN.